Scorpion Unit officers in Memphis were set up to fail, says former LAPD sergeant

Written by Danielle Chiriguayo, produced by Bennett Purser

Activists held a protest in honor of Tyre Nichols at Park Central Square on January 29. Recently released video footage showed Memphis police officers beating the 29-year-old after a traffic stop. Nichols, a Black FedEx worker and father of a 4-year-old son, died three days later from his injuries. Credit: Sara Karnes/Springfield News-Leader / USA TODAY NETWORK via Reuters Connect.

Nationwide protests broke out this weekend over the death of Tyre Nichols, who was repeatedly beaten, kicked, and tased by five Memphis police officers. The incident was caught on body camera footage released on Friday. 

The officers involved were in the elite so-called Scorpion Unit, which was created about a year and a half ago and is now disbanded. In the past, Police Chief Cerelyn J. (“CJ”) Davis praised it for decreasing crime in the city. 

While this team had previously served its purpose to address crime, it included inexperienced officers without much supervision, says Cheryl Dorsey, retired LAPD sergeant and author of “Black and Blue: The Creation of a Social Advocate.”

Dorsey says she expected Davis, who has more than 20 years of law enforcement experience, to know better.

“For her to create this unit and give it the name Scorpion, which sounds aggressive in and of itself, stack and fill it with a bunch of inexperienced, unsupervised miscreants — is a formula for disaster. She's setting these officers up to fail, and to think that all they had was a PowerPoint display to look at before they went out into the community.”

She continues, “She has failed humanity as well by not investigating those officers. She's allowed this fire to smolder for over a year. And now we have the loss of life that probably could have been saved.” 

While fostering more racial diversity in law enforcement has been floated as a solution, Dorsey says officers still get caught up in the culture of their department. 

“You have officers who are, in this instance, drunk with power. They understand that they're not supervised. They've been out there behaving this way for probably the entire year and a half … just jumping out of the car, pulling people out, mistreating them, manhandling them. And then they jump back in their cars and off they go.”

She adds, “You have officers who spend eight or 10 hours together every day and it's like the three musketeers: One for all, all for one. They all speak the same. They look the same. They walk the same.” 

And while body cameras are supposed to dissuade law enforcement from taking brutal action, Dorsey says that didn’t help in this case.

“Officers get in the zone. You're hyped up, adrenaline is running. You've been chasing this person over the fence … and you're happy that you caught them if you have a legitimate reason, and you think they're a bad doer. But in some instances, there's an unwritten, unspoken rule, and some officers will punish you once they catch you at the end of a foot pursuit. And so they just forget. They forget that there's a camera. They forget that they're being recorded. And in this instance, it seemed like they really just didn't even care.”

Dorsey says the units themselves suffer without oversight. 

“They're akin to pubescent teens whose parents have gone out of town for the weekend, and now they're gonna have a house party. So you absolutely cannot have these young officers on that kind of a unit — number one because they think they're the varsity team. I call them elephant hunters. And so you can't have them out there unsupervised on top of it. It just further exacerbates an already very tenuous situation.”



  • Cheryl Dorsey - retired LAPD Sergeant (1980-2000) and the author of “Black and Blue: The Creation of a Social Advocate”